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Good retreats make rejoicing Catholics at Advent

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Take time out and get some peace and quiet, and exposure to the Blessed Sacrament. Photo: ALPHONSUS FOK

This weekend is all about rejoicing, but it’s hard to rejoice when you’re flat as a tack. It’s the end of the year and everyone is tired and cranky.

However, I am full of bounce because last weekend I was on a private individual retreat. Some peace and quiet, a change of scene, and exposure to the Blessed Sacrament all do me a lot of good.

Fr Jacques Philippe, whose book Time for God I’m reading, says straight out that, “People who never come face to face with God in silence are never really conscious of their infidelities and faults, but when we pray, such things become much more obvious.”
This is uncomfortable, to say the least, but you won’t make any spiritual progress, and you won’t be nearly as useful to God, without regular and consistent mental prayer. This takes time—and time out.

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I’m also increasingly a believer in single-sex retreats. Men and women behave differently in group settings. God knows that, and you should know it too, if you’re planning to run a retreat.

For example, if it’s men only, think twice about having a woman speaker. Modern Catholic men have often been raised without a father and taught entirely by women for 12 or more years.

They’re dying to hear a male Catholic voice speaking with authority and teaching from the same set of life experiences. Men can also correct each other better when they’re not trying to impress any women present.

With women, sometimes the best thing you can do is not to have a speaker at all. Speakers can be a distraction from the task of sitting in silence with God, which over-scheduled chatterbox women like me desperately need.

It’s also hard to get agreement on the right speaker. Your opinion on the suitability of Dr Angela Velcro, Catholic lady theologian, may differ from mine. And yes, I’ve also heard that Fr Guy Smiley is charming, but you’ll soon find out why, and you won’t like it.

To be honest, it’s hard to find good retreat speakers, invite them, remind them, get their PowerPoint slides off them, steer them away from anything too divisive, and meet their dietary needs.

You also have to be nice to them afterwards when they attract an audience of four, three of whom walk out in protest and the fourth falls asleep.

Retreats are meant to be oases, not forced marches. They’re meant to replenish, not to exhaust. You do need to think about what your retreatants might really need.

Men often won’t talk to each other unless they are working together on something. If you’re hoping to create a retreat for Catholic men who would benefit from talking things over with other Catholic men, give them things to do together.

The least helpful thing is to sit them in a room in a circle with someone like Dr Velcro in charge and ask them to share with each other. The second least helpful thing is to give them a drum and some antlers and send them off into the forest.

Neither of these approaches brings out the best in a Catholic man, especially not one who’s struggling with deep inner turmoil (although the antlers option would be quite fun).
Women, on the other hand, usually love to chat, so you might have to go in the other direction and impose silence if you can.

But no matter which sex you find yourself, or whether you ever run a retreat or not, you should be looking right now to book a personal spiritual retreat for yourself in 2024. Book it in very firmly, and then do it.

It can be private and individual—it doesn’t have to be guided. Take a good spiritual book or downloaded podcast series along.

Spend some serious time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, away from your home and regular routine. Get off the internet completely if you can.

You really need it, because you’re already trying to make excuses for why you can’t go (I can hear you from here).

All you need is a Friday night to Sunday morning (or similar). If you have odd working days, perhaps two days during the week.

Find a retreat house with a room they can rent you, and a chapel available with the Blessed Sacrament. That’s all you need.

Seriously, you can do this. They (whoever “they” are) will be fine without you for two days.
It will make it possible for you to rejoice again. And it’s a great New Year’s Resolution.

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